Reviews Manchester Published 16 July 2015

Flare 15: Triple Bill

Contact Theatre ⋄ 14th July 2015

Down at the bottom of the garden….

James Varney
Hannah Sullivan in With Force and Noise.

Hannah Sullivan in With Force and Noise.

With Force and Noise – Hannah Sullivan

Billed as ‘Hannah’s first attempt at articulating anger’, maybe it’s fitting that With Force and Noise felt a little weakly presented. Sullivan creeps to the front of the stage with a back covered with bells (costume designed by Annelies Henney), all done softly enough that the bells make no sound. At points she shakes with anger / frustration and the jacket ring out. It’s a nice visual metaphor for the experience of restriction – a social, physical sense of out of place, of limited options.

I’m not pretending I was in the fittest mood to see quiet, considered theatre so take this with a pinch of salt but something in the combination of parts left the whole feeling too tentative, like a string of excuses for itself. Maybe this was a dramaturgical masterstroke but With Force and Noise created a lot of tension it failed to manipulate, and failed to entertain. The set up was strong but the payoff wasn’t there.

There is something political in the expression of female rage, and in it happening on a stage. I’m not convinced, though, that this was the right stage. Space 1 at Contact is a gorgeous, simple theatre, with a fantastic technical team, and when you put one woman in the middle of the stage, it feels very big. Sullivan felt lost in it and I failed to get the sense that With Force and Noise fully utilised the physical space it occupied. The setting for this piece was too tight, too crisply presented to articulate the frustrated inarticulacy of anger.

Dance Peas – Figs in Wigs

Oh lordy, was this piece daft. You ever eaten peas before? OF COURSE you’ve eaten peas before! You ever seen a dance piece? You’re reading this article, it’s QUITE POSSIBLE you’ve seen a dance piece! Ever eaten peas with a cocktail stick? MAYBE NOT, but again, it’s STILL A POSSIBILITY YOU’VE DONE THAT – people do wacky things all the time, I’m not here to judge (lol)! But I’m willing to bet several bags of peas on the presumption you’ve ALMOST CERTAINLY NEVER SEEN A DANCE PEAS BEFORE.

Figs in Wigs’s Dance Peas features the five members of their company, one by one, attempting to beat the world record for eating peas with a cocktail stick in three minutes. While one eats peas, the other four perform a dance routine. They perform the same dance routine five times. That’s all that happened and I’d quite happily watch it again.

In the foyer, there was brief consideration of whether there was some intrinsic subtle feminist message present. And yes, I could write a feminist reading, but I’d rather just relish that this show was ludicrous and I loved it. And you know what, maybe this piece just happened to be made by some women who happen to be feminists – let’s let women be onstage without reading them as ‘Women’ and thinking about what that means. They were dancing and eating peas. There were puns about peas. As we left, the theme from The Poddington Peas played. PEAS.

For Thine – Sanne van Rijn/HKU/Johnny’s Horse

I don’t know who owns this piece. Johnny’s Horse are described in the programme as ‘a new theatre collective’, which is fair enough, but this piece seems to emerge from a greater collective. What do you get when you cross a director, a university (HKU = University of the Arts Utrecht), and an arts collective? An obnoxious mess, as far as I’m concerned.

For Thine was like an overlong showcase affair, with disparate elements emerging one after the other, with the only link I could see being ‘clothes’ – the performers took their clothes off very slowly then put them back on; they wore their clothes in an odd way and moved about jerkily, like they were in some sort Francis Bacon fishtank; they took off their clothes and ran around at the end.

The low point for me was when all eight performers stood at the front of the stage and between them recited T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, one word at a time. It took a long time and was incredibly dull. You could probably get away with calling this sort of theatre impressionistic, but so much of it felt lazy and unconsidered, and not in a loose, anarchic and exciting way, more in a thoughtless and insincere way. Like the combination of neither trusting nor respecting their audience and creating work for themselves that doesn’t alter in the slightest through having an audience.

I see what this piece was doing, I just don’t care.


James Varney

James is a writer and theatre maker, based in the middle parts of England. He has created work with Daniel Bye, Josh Coates and Lenni Sanders and had work presented at Derby Theatre, The Royal Exchange, Manchester Literature Festival, Live at LICA and Camden People’s Theatre. James enjoys Peanut Butter, DIY Punk and Long Walks On The Beach.

Flare 15: Triple Bill Show Info

Cast includes Hannah Sullivan, Figs in Wigs and Sanne Van Rijnhku / Johnny's Horse.



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